May 28, 2009

The Terrible Beauty of a Sparrow that Falls

There are as many Hamlets as there are directors, and with good reason—with over four hours of text to cull and scores of interpretative theories (focusing on anything from the absurdity of life to extra textual sexual psychoses) Hamlet may as well be the springboard for a choose-your-own-adventure event. Unfortunately, that's how many productions of Hamlet come off—willy nilly. Fortunately for Greenvillians, Paul Savas of the Warehouse Theatre has trimmed Hamlet with a sensitive ear, shuffling scenes and lines to give the audience a clear window into the story. The result is a lean, powerful performance that highlights the terrifying and beautiful providence of Hamlet's fall.

Providence haunts the play almost as much as Hamlet's murdered father, with lines from Act V working their way into a number of scenes: “There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” This sparrow's falling seems to be the central metaphor for Jason Shipman's elegant performance. Unlike so many numb melancholics, Shipman's Hamlet is refreshingly emotive, fragile and fluttering against the inhuman political machine. Shipman drowns in grief and rage, teeters on the borders of madness. His Hamlet is moved by mad fortune, and what's more, he moves the audience with that same madness.

Would that all the cast could do the same. While there are several strong performances (Kerrie Seymour's beleaguered Gertrude stirred the heart, and Joe Wrobel's Polonius rang true every line), a few notable exceptions caused discomfort. While it's normal to have a range of talents in such a large cast, it is nearly unforgivable that it should happen in the leading roles, especially leading female roles, as there are precious few of them in Shakespeare and a line of talented actresses to fill them. Talented though she be, Tiffany Nave doesn't appear quite comfortable in Ophelia's skin. She's got all the mannerisms of a giddy young innocent, and some loose bits of the hysteric, but that's all I could detect—mannerisms, bits, externals lacking heart. Of course, one may make the argument that even Ophelia wasn't all that cozy with herself—she did go mad after all—so I'm willing to concede that a more learned observer will catch something I have missed.

Surprisingly, this Hamlet's Ophelia isn't all that important to the production. Hamlet's got another, deeper relationship with Horatio, and this friendship is, after Shipman's performance, the chief delight of Warehouse's production. Hamlet and Horatio's shared friendship is a quick mixture of tenderness and strength, a delight to watch. Were it not for Andy Croston's steadfast Horatio, one suspects this Hamlet would have been crushed all the sooner.

The purists can argue about the stabilizing necessity of Fortinbras, sweeping in and setting all to rights. He isn't in this production, and he isn't needed. The Warehouse has given us a far better catharsis than that clunky machina. Here in the inevitable approach of the final scene, there is such truth, such comfort in Hamlet and Horatio's confidences that Shakespeare's “special providence” takes on an electrifying new meaning. Where once stood blind and furious fate, there now stands a tender grace that cushions the sparrow's fall in the arms of his best friend. It's a fall at once terrifying and beautiful—we all must end some day. “If it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.” The readiness, yes, and the company in which you pass those final moments.

Shakespeare's “Hamlet,” directed by Paul Savas.
Presented by Warehouse Theatre, 37 Augusta St., Greenville (864) 235-6948. Through June 13. Tickets $25. Students $15.

Posted by stephanie at May 28, 2009 05:23 PM | TrackBack